Bill eliminating special treatment for unions soon to become law

Posted: April 09, 2014

SOON ENOUGH, people involved in a labor dispute will no longer be allowed to stalk, harass or threaten another person in the dispute with weapons of mass destruction.

Currently, under the Pennsylvania crime code, such activities are permitted.

House Bill 1154, sponsored by state Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, will remove the special carve-out for those involved in a labor dispute. It passed the House last month.

Yesterday, a slightly amended version unanimously passed the Senate, 48-0. The amended bill now returns to the House for a concurrence vote, which could take place as early as today, Miller said yesterday. He expects it to pass.

Gov. Corbett is expected to sign the bill, his press office said.

The bill recently made headlines after the February federal indictment of 10 members of the local Ironworkers union, who have been accused of threatening, committing or conspiring to commit acts of violence against contractors in an effort to force them to hire Ironworkers members.

One of the union's former leaders who was indicted, Edward Sweeney, had been accused in a separate case of harassing a Post Brothers Apartments executive. He was acquitted by a city judge in that case, partially because of the exemption under state law.

"Labor situations can be difficult enough," Miller said yesterday. "But with the exemption that was in for stalking and harassment, it had a potential to make [labor disputes] much more controversial and contentious.

"When this exemption existed under the state law," Miller said, "it allowed you to cross over into illegal activity" by permitting smaller activities that escalated.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee amended the bill to include language in the sections on stalking and harassment that protects anyone - not just a person involved in a labor dispute - who engages in activities already permitted by the U.S. or state constitutions, or federal law.

For example, a union member or anyone in the public will still be permitted to protest in front of a company under one's rights of free speech or free association. But actual harassment or stalking would not be allowed, said state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In the state case involving Sweeney, the former Ironworkers business agent was accused of yelling obscenities at Sarina Rose, vice president of development for Post Brothers, and briefly pinning her against a counter in a restaurant across from the Goldtex apartments site on 12th Street near Wood, near Center City, on Feb. 26, 2013.

Later that morning, Sweeney allegedly formed the shape of a gun with his hand and pointed it at Rose while she was in a vehicle.

Sweeney was charged with terroristic threats, simple assault and harassment. After a two-day trial in November, Municipal Judge Charles Hayden acquitted Sweeney on all counts.

On Twitter: @julieshawphilly

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